The History of Wandsworth Common


of Wandsworth Common

"Galician Gypsies being moved from Wandsworth Common, 1911"



Part One

Some years ago I came across a rather disturbing photograph showing a family of exotic "Galician Gypsies" being evicted from their encampment by mounted police and others. They appear to be surrounded by a crowd of onlookers. According to the caption, this took place on Wandsworth Common in 1911.

Really? Who were they? Where exactly did this take place? I was gripped.

"Galician Gypsies being moved from Wandsworth Common, 1911"

I found this image online, but maddeningly I've lost the reference. The caption says it's from Simon Evans, Stopping Places: A Gypsy history of South London and Kent" (2005). I've done what I can to enhance the quality of the image but without much success.
I'm hoping to get a copy of the book, but in the meanwhile does anybody have a better version? I would very much like to know when and where this image was first published.
(Click on image to enlarge)

I looked around for more, and came up with this striking image, that appeared to relate to the same event (though I cannot be sure). Again, what is the source?

Galician gypsy women moved on by police, Wandsworth 1911.

Again, is it Wandsworth Common? What is the source? When was it taken? Is it indeed the same event?

And this turned up too — possibly a view of their encampment before it was broken up — also captioned "Wandsworth".

A "Galician Gypsy" camp in 1911, but is this Wandsworth Common? Is it even Wandsworth?

Notice the visitors to the camp inspecting the seated inhabitants as if they were animals in an open air zoo
(Click on image to enlarge)

I spent hours and hours inspecting contemporary maps, but I was never confident that I'd found quite the right mix of an open field, on a slope, with buildings close to the edge.

Stanford, 1872: Wandsworth Common north

For a while "Bridge Field", north of East Hill/St John's Hill, seemed to be a candidate site, but of course by 1911 it had been built over as "The Tonsleys" etc.
(Click on image to enlarge)

I was also intrigued by the phrase "Galician Gypsies".

Probably because of the fabulously exotic look of the women and girls — straight out of Bizet's opera Carmen, or a Flamenco dance performance — I assumed that the "Galicia" they came from was in north-western Spain/Portugal — the extreme top left of the Iberian peninsula. (Mind you, Carmen and Flamenco are associated with Andalucia, in the south, not the north.)

[As a five-year-old in the mid-1950s I had seen people exactly like this on the (then) rather remote Greek island of Ikaria. I was told the Roma people moved from island to island, staying a few weeks then suddenly disappearing. Needless to say, I was warned to stay away from them, or they would doubtless kidnap me. But I was so drawn to them that I recall sitting for hours watching from rocks just above their camp. The oddest thing about this memory is that as I watched I ate (raw) tiny silver fish that I'd caught off the edge of the harbour nearby.]

But I was wrong, of course. Their "Galicia" was not the hot south but a large area of central Europe that straddles the border between today's Poland and Ukraine:

Galicia (dark green) in relation to modern Poland and Ukraine (light green)

[Wikipedia: Galicia (Eastern Europe).]
(Click on image to enlarge)

It turned out that these were families of itinerant "Galician Copper Workers" on their way to the United States. They were said to be gathering in great numbers in South London prior to setting off together to the New World. Contemporary accounts called them a "tribe" and their arrival in England an "invasion".

The events excited interest throughout the UK. Here's the first newspaper article I came across, from Lynn in Norfolk, dated 1 September 1911. It tells of sanitary concerns about the presence of 80 "Galician Gipsies" in a yard near Battersea Park Road.

I suppose you could say they were uncomfortably odd-looking:

"The band included a number of women and children, the women being garishly dressed and loaded with barbaric jewellery . . . "

However, the group rather confounded expectations because they were not poor:

"The gipsy chief said they were metal workers and addsed that they had plenty of money, producing a number of French bank notes."

They had more than sufficient to secure for a year a large house in Garratt Lane, with grounds on which they could erect their tents:

Lynn Advertiser, 1 September 1911.

(Click on image to enlarge)


The Sanitary Department of the Battersea Borough Council has secured the removal from the district of about 80 Galician gipsies who had taken up their abode in a yard at Battersea Park Road. The band included a number of women and children, the women being garishly dressed and loaded with barbaric jewellery.

Most of the party passed the night in an open shed, under the roof of which there was a striped awning.

Mr. Isaac Young. chief sanitary inspector for Battersea, visited the place on Saturday afternoon and convinced the chief that they must not stay in the yard another night. The chief produced a reciept for £7, which he had paid as a month's rent, but Mr. Young saw that the money was re-funded.

The gipsies had un interpreter who secured a large house in Garratt Lane, Wandsworth. An agreement was made for the possession of this house with the adjacent land for one year; half the rent was paid on Saturday. and it was stipulated that the remainder should be paid quarterly in advance. The gipsy chief said they were metal workers and added that they had plenty of money, producing a number of French bank notes.

When it was explained to them that their contract gave them the right to take possession of the Wandsworth premises they at once made preparations for departure. It is their intention to erect tents on the land at Wandsworth. The chief said that they had been in Liverpool three months and that they intended to go to America in a year's time.

Does this report refer to the scenes shown in the two photographs at the top of this piece? Perhaps, but perhaps not. It doesn't read like a confrontation, with mounted police and suchlike. But if not this event, then what exactly is happening in the pictures? Where and why did they take place, and what were the outcomes?

Over time, I've accumulated quite a number of images and articles on this "invasion". Many were taken in Garratt Lane on 28 August 1911. (But where exactly)?

[I owe a lot to Geoff Simmons who suggested some time ago that I should take a look at the Robert Macfie / Gypsy Lore Society Archives at the University of Liverpool. (See here.) Thanks, Geoff!]

"Galician Gypsies — three girls — 28 Aug 1911. Taken at Garratt Lane, Wandsworth."

[I'm not sure why, but when I tested the links for these images, they no longer worked. In case normal service is resumed in the future, here are the original urls in the Liverpool University Library Archives: Record 44312. The captions are direct quotes from this archive.]
(Click on image to enlarge)

"Galician Gypsy girls and man holding an umbrella — 28 Aug 1911. Taken at Wandsworth."

[Record 44313.]
(Click on image to enlarge)

"Galician Gypsy — Lolya [Grigor Maximoff] — 28 Aug 1911 Taken at Wandsworth."

[Record 44306.]
(Click on image to enlarge)

"Galician Gypsies — Frankoi and others — 28 Aug 1911. Taken at Garratt Lane, Wandsworth."

[Record 44306.]
(Click on image to enlarge)

"Galician Gypsy woman washing clothes — 28 Aug 1911."

[Record 44310.]
(Click on image to enlarge)

"Galician Gypsy woman sewing — 28 Aug 1911. Taken at Garratt Lane, Wandsworth."

[Record 44311.]
(Click on image to enlarge)

"Galician Gypsy women preparing food — 28 Aug 1911. Taken at Wandsworth."

[Record 44308.]
(Click on image to enlarge)

"Galician Gypsy women — 28 Aug 1911.Taken at Garratt Lane, Wandsworth."

[Record 44307.]
(Click on image to enlarge)

I have a few more photographs — mainly portraits — but these images are probably quite enough for the moment.

Amazingly, there's even a fragment of a movie — only a few seconds long, but still remarkable. Notice once again the intrusive curiosity of the numerous spectators, many of them rather smartly dressed.

"London. A GIPSY CAMP. Over 120 Galician Gipsies have encamped in Wandsworth."

[I found this clip on YouTube, where it is (wrongly) described as "Galencian Gypsy Camp". There is no sound. YouTube: Link.]
(Click on image to play video)

I hope to pick up this story later. (It ran and ran.) As the Liverpool photographs show, many moved to Garrett Lane, others to Gressenhall Road, Southfields. Later there was a large encampment in Beddington, Mitcham.

In the meanwhile, here are a few links on that you will find interesting on Romany Gypsy and Traveller heritage in Battersea and Wandsworth.

Poster for a "The People of Wardley Street" history walk by Geoff Simmons (14 May 2022).

[Excellent outline and images here.]
(Click on image to enlarge)

Related stories in previous Chronicles, include:

— 30 July 1827 — "The Gypsey [sic] Party pitch their tent among the cedars on Wandsworth Common"  . . . . The upper class gets in on the act.

— 10 October 1866 — John Hobbs, caught throwing stones at trains, runs away to join the gypsies on the Common (with the court's blessing)  . . . 

— November 1866 — "In Moscow, the Prince of Wales is entertained by a "company of some forty gipsies . . .  who sit as unconcerned before the Royal party [as] if they had been encamped on Wandsworth Common"  . . . 

— January 1879 — Winters particularly hard for Gypsies and other Travellers  . . . 

I have also put together some quite detailed research on Wandsworth Common's world-famous "gypsy beauty" Charlotte Cooper (nee Lee) and her husband, the pugilist Thomas (or Jack) Cooper who was transported to Australia for murder. More on this too another time.

Was Wandsworth Common's Charlotte Cooper the model for C.R. Leslie's Dulcinea del Toboso (1839), a character in Cervantes's Don Quixote? I'm pretty sure she was.

[Victoria and Albert Museum, London: Dulcinea del Toboso, by Charles Robert Leslie (1794-1859). Oil on panel. English, 1839.]
(Click on image to enlarge)

SO many more stories still to tell. But that's all for now, folks.

If you would like to receive occasional notifications of new Chronicles, let me know.

I've made a rough-and-ready index of all stories in the Chronicles so far.

Plus there's a SEARCH box at the top of this page, and here:

Send me an email if you enjoyed this post, or want to comment on something you've seen or read on the site, or would like to know more —or just want to be kept in touch.

Philip Boys ("HistoryBoys")

Chronicles etc so far . . . 

September 2023 — part two [coming soon]

September 2023 — part one — "Galician Gypsies"

August 2023 —part three — "The death of Sarah Tonks, aged 18, who was found on Saturday morning sleeping on Wandsworth Common", 1909  . . . 

August 2023 —part two

August 2023 —part one — Whatever happened to Neal's Nursery?

July 2023 —part two

July 2023 —part one —In search of Benni, Bella and Ruth

June 2023

"Some matters arising from May 2023's Chronicles

May 2023

April 2023

March 2023

February 2023

January 2023

December 2022

November 2022

October 2022

September 2022

August 2022

July 2022

June 2022

May 2022

April 2022

March 2022

February 2022

January 2022

December 2021

November 2021

October 2021

September 2021

August 2021

July 2021

June 2021

Some more videos, talks etc . . . 

New videos from The Friends of Wandsworth Common

P.Y. Betts: The Movie. Superb. Don't miss.
(Click on image to view the video on the Friends of Wandsworth Common website.)

"COMMON MEMORIES: Life on & around Wandsworth Common, 1930s-1980s"

(Click on image to enlarge)

COMMON MEMORIES — Life on & around Wandsworth Common, 1930s—1980s

6/2023 — Over the past year, members of the Friends of Wandsworth Common Heritage group, led by Ros Page, have interviewed lifelong residents of the Common to explore their life and experiences and how the Common used to be.

The interviews were all filmed by John Crossland and the more than 20 hours of footage beautifully and sensitively edited down into this 'charming and engaging' film by Rosa Navas, a local film maker and Friend.

The film is interspersed with old images and film clips, bringing alive the narrative of the interviewees. The result is a fascinating insight into how life on Wandsworth Common has changed over five decades.

With special thanks to the production team led by Ros Page, including Stephen Midlane, Henrietta Gentilli, Louise Murphy, John Turner, cameraman John Crossland and editor Rosa Navas.

The film was launched on 6 June 2023 in the Fiennes Theatre, Emanuel School, and special thanks are due to Lisa Irwin and the school for their very generous support.

The video is now available to view via the Friends of Wandsworth Common website or on YouTube .

A DVD is also available, at £5.

Incidentally, a couple of years ago I made a short video (my first) from Edwardian postcards and photographs of the lake, set to music by Claude Debussy, which you can view here. Utterly self-indulgent.

HistoryBoys | Magic Lantern Show #1 | The Lake, Wandsworth Common . . . also known as the Dog Pond, the Long Pond, or just 'the Pond'.

And here's one on the Three-Island Pond:

HistoryBoys | Magic Lantern Show #? | The Three-Island Pond

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Send me an email if you enjoyed this post, or want to comment on something you've seen or read on the site, or would like to know more —or just want to be kept in touch.

Philip Boys ("HistoryBoys")